5 things we've learned about our gun politics in the last 24 hours
Posted February 22, 2018 1:09 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The last 24 hours have featured a more intense -- and, generally speaking, more honest -- national conversation about guns and culture than in, at least, the last five years.
From CNN's terrific -- yes, I am biased but it was really good -- town hall in Sunrise, Florida, on Wednesday night to a series of tweets and comments from President Donald Trump Thursday morning, the past day has been a crash course in what's possible (and impossible) in the current gun debate.
Here's what I have learned about what's changed -- and what hasn't -- about the politics of guns in the wake of the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School eight days ago.
1. This one is a little different
In the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting, I wrote a piece arguing that this mass murder would follow the same blueprint of the dozens like it since Columbine in the 1990s. Outrage --> calls for action --> legislative quagmire --> moving on to some other pressing issue.
A week out from the Parkland shootings, there is very little sign that the attention on guns and school violence is fading in the same way most of these events do. (538's Nate Silver smartly has documented how search interest in this shooting has remained far higher than in other comparable moments.)
The reason for that is simple: Dozens of Stoneman Douglas students have become articulate and vocal spokespeople in support of future gun control legislation. These students are becoming household names as they rally in Tallahassee, and next month in Washington, to keep the national spotlight on the gun issue.
A cadre of young adults speaking out in the wake of watching their classmates be gunned down is a very powerful force that had not been mobilized in anything close to this manner before.
2. Donald Trump wants to do something -- but has no idea what
Trump has been absolutely all over the map when it comes to a way forward. He's seemingly in favor of arming at least some teachers, banning bump fire stocks, raising the age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and strengthening the background check system.
How he does any of those things -- and which he prioritizes, if any -- remains to be seen. Remember that Trump is a day-to-day president; what he says today isn't terribly instructive about what he will do tomorrow or the next day. (Just look at Trump's 180s on immigration and DACA if you need evidence of his lack of concern about saying one thing one day and something totally opposite the next.)
What we also know about Trump, however, is that he likes wins, accomplishments and signing ceremonies. He likes the idea that he is able to do things -- tax cuts, repealing pieces of Obamacare -- that other presidents couldn't or wouldn't do. Those character traits argue that he will push to get something done.
3. The NRA is standing its ground
Trump said Thursday that the National Rifle Association wants to get something done on guns. "The NRA is ready to do things," Trump said. "People like to blame them, and they do have power and all of that, but they want to do things."
The actual statements from the NRA are far less sanguine about the possibility of change and compromise. In an incredibly confrontational speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said that "they" -- Democrats and the media -- were using this latest gun tragedy to put in "more restrictions on the law-abiding." NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, also speaking at CPAC, suggested that "many in the legacy media love mass shootings."
On Wednesday, the NRA also came out against raising the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 -- despite the fact that Trump supports such a measure. After Trump's comments Thursday, NRA public affairs director Jennifer Baker said "our position has not changed" on age limits.
4. Change is possible on this issue
All of the barbs directed at Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in the town hall on Wednesday night overshadowed the fact that the Florida Republican moved on a number of gun-related issues -- from supporting raising the age to purchase a rifle to 21 to taking a hard look at banning modifications like bump stocks that turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones.
Dunk on Rubio all you want -- and lots and lots of people on Twitter did -- but his willingness to reconsider some of his past views on guns in the wake of the Parkland murders is the very stuff on which a possible legislative compromise can be built.
Yes, Rubio is one senator. (More on that below.) But don't discount his willingness to adjust his views on these issues; it's not a small thing.
5. GOP congressional leaders remain very quiet
Amid all of the debate and calls to action from students and ideas being bandied about by the President, top Republican congressional leaders have been veeeeery quiet.
It's not clear to me that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and/or House Speaker Paul Ryan are willing to put any sort of gun legislation -- assuming something coalesces into a bill -- at the front of the congressional calendar. Congress is on recess this week, sure, but if McConnell or Ryan wanted to send a message they could have easily said that they would bring gun legislation forward as soon as the House and Senate return next week.
Trump, of course, could change that legislative calculus if and when he makes clear that some sort of gun legislation is a priority for him. But, per point No. 2 above, it's not at all clear to me that Trump will be willing (or able) to do that.